March 8, 2017

Immigration projected to drive growth in U.S. working-age population through at least 2035

For most of the past half-century, adults in the U.S. Baby Boom generation – those born after World War II and before 1965 – have been the main driver of the nation’s expanding workforce. But as this large generation heads into retirement, the increase in the potential labor force will slow markedly, and immigrants will play the primary role in the future growth of the working-age population (though they will remain a minority of it).

The number of adults in the prime working ages of 25 to 64 – 173.2 million in 2015 – will rise to 183.2 million in 2035, according to Pew Research Center projections. That total growth of 10 million over two decades will be lower than the total in any single decade since the Baby Boomers began pouring into the workforce in the 1960s. The growth rate of working-age adults will also be markedly reduced.

The largest segment of working-age adults – those born in the U.S. whose parents also were born in the U.S. – is projected to decline from 2015 to 2035, both in numbers and as a share of the working-age population. The Center’s projections show a reduction of 8.2 million of these adults, from 128.3 million in 2015 to 120.1 million in 2035.

That numerical loss will be partially offset by an increase in the number of working-age U.S.-born adults with immigrant parents, who are projected to number 24.6 million in 2035, up from 11.1 million in 2015.

But perhaps the most important component of the growth in the working-age population over the next two decades will be the arrival of future immigrants. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. (The number of current immigrants of working age is projected to decline as some will turn 65, while others are projected to leave the country or die.) Without these new arrivals, the number of immigrants of working age would decline by 17.6 million by 2035, as would the total projected U.S. working-age population, which would fall to 165.6 million.

The Pew Research Center projections for foreign-born working-age adults are based on current rates of immigration, combining lawful and unauthorized. They assume that two-thirds of immigrants arriving through 2035 will be ages 25 to 64, as is true of today’s new immigrants.

The declining number of U.S.-born working-age adults with U.S.-born parents means that they will become a smaller share of the working-age population: 66% in 2035, compared with 74% in 2015. U.S.-born children of immigrants will make up a growing share of working-age adults: 13% in 2035, compared with 6% in 2015. The immigrant share of working-age adults will inch up, from 20% in 2015 to 21% in 2035.

Change by immigrant generation

The decrease in working-age adults born in the U.S. whose parents also were born in the U.S. largely reflects the aging of the Baby Boom generation, born from 1946 to 1964. The youngest Boomers turn 65 by 2030 (of course, some Baby Boomers are immigrants or have immigrant parents, but the share is smaller than among younger Americans). Birth rates, which have stayed relatively low since the 1970s, also play a role.

The largest group joining the nation’s working-age population will be the 60 million people who were born in the country to U.S.-born parents and turn 25 between 2015 and 2035. But they will be outnumbered by U.S.-born adults with U.S.-born parents who turn 65 or who die, according to the projections, and so this group will have a net loss in number.

There will also be 18 million U.S.-born people with immigrant parents who will join the working-age population from 2015 to 2035. This group already lives in the U.S.; they were ages 5 to 24 in 2015. They will outnumber the working-age adults in this group who turn 65 or die over the next two decades, resulting in a net gain of 13.6 million working-age adults who are U.S. born with immigrant parents.

The projections indicate that 17.6 million new immigrants will be added to the working-age population by 2035, offsetting the aging or death of other working-age immigrants. Without them, the number of working-age immigrants would decline by 2035 and the total U.S. working-age population would drop by almost 8 million (or more than 4%) from the 2015 working-age population.

Growth rates and immigration’s role

The relatively weak growth rate projected for the total working-age adult population – averaging 0.3% per year for both the decades between 2015 and 2035 – is well under the increases in recent decades. The annual growth peaked at 2% in the decade from 1975 to 1985, when the Baby Boomers were coming of age, and growth rates were at least 0.8% in all other decades since 1965.

In recent decades, immigration to the U.S. has become an increasing source of growth for the working-age population. It was a negligible source of growth in the 1960s but grew in importance after the 1965 immigration law opened visa eligibility to people from a wider variety of nations than the traditional European countries of origin. By the mid-1990s, immigration had surpassed growth in the number of U.S.-born adults with U.S.-born parents as a source of the increase in the nation’s potential labor force.

These projections, which are based on analysis of census data trends, focus on the working-age population, defined as ages 25 to 64. They exclude young adults, many of whom are enrolled in training programs or higher education, as well as adults ages 65 and older, most of whom are not working. However, the patterns are similar if the age range includes those as young as 18 or as old as 69.

These projections do not look at the future labor force – that is, how many people in each of these groups will be employed or looking for work. Labor-force participation differs by gender and generation. Currently, foreign-born men are somewhat more likely to work than all U.S.-born men (including those with immigrant parents and U.S.-born parents), but foreign-born women are somewhat less likely to work than U.S.-born women, in part because many are staying home to raise children.

Immigrants also play a large role in future U.S. population growth. Assuming current trends continue, future immigrants and their U.S.-born children will account for 88% of the nation’s population growth between 2015 and 2065, according to Pew Research Center projections.

Topics: Immigration, Demographics, Immigration Trends, Generations and Age, Business and Labor, Migration

  1. Photo of Jeffrey S. Passel

    is a senior demographer at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous5 months ago

    It would be better if the US population only grows very moderately, if at all. More residents means more natural land devoted to buildings, parking lots, roads, and houses. This loss of natural land means less wildlife and quiet areas. It puts greater strains on clean water for drinking. With our US poplulation at 319 million today, the PEW Center’s projection of 441 million US residents in 2065, means a more crowded nation, and a lower quality of life. Here in Florida we have gone from 7 million in 1970 to 19.5 million today. It is a crowded state now with beaches over occupied, and less opportunity for tranquality. There is no real reason to have so much immigration, even if it results in a decline in working age residents. The USA can have a good level of prosperity without a growing population.

    1. Chayah Fire5 months ago

      Thank you. The US is becoming extremely over populated, the levels of minorities has grown too much. We need to place an embargo on immigration.

    2. Anonymous5 months ago

      It is certainly a complicated issue. I am disappointed that Pew did not include other data I was reading just yesterday which demonstrated that the population would increase but would not increase fertility rates substantially. Thus, the population will grow but may or may not support the aging population. The study I read yesterday said the contribution of immigration does increase support of aging population but not enough and that raising the retirement age by one year would do more to support our aging population. The numbers are further complicated by economic status. Supporting the aging population will also require us to secure our social safety nets. Some unauthorized immigrants are contributing to social security, but others are not. With migration increasing globally with an ever increasing threat of global warming, shouldn’t there be projections of what massive numbers of poor migrants do to the contributions to social security? I would also like to see data that measures the impact of different immigrant populations. Some immigrant families are here to stay. They have children educated in the US and absolutely contribute to the tax base. However, seasonal workers or those coming for 5 years only to return home (according to Pew itself) are more likely to work under the table and send money home to their native country. PEW says those are included in the numbers, but I don’t understand how they can measure their impact on supporting the aging population, social safety nets, or economy as that contribution is likely fleeting and minimal. I think “supporting the aging population” has little to do with social security. I think it just means that young people replace old people in the workforce so our economy won’t implode. Population control is much more complicated than PEW suggests by its over simplified graph. They need to include projected age structure, birth rates, contributions to social security to give us a better idea of how to shape policy and form opinion on a very complicated issue. It appears they are supporting in a single graph a “let em all in” policy. Something I think many population scientists are still debating. Of course we need immigrants. The question is how many. And in what labor force capacity?

  2. Anonymous6 months ago

    Immigrants and there offspring will increasingly be a major source of the fuel the feeds the engine of our economic growth.

  3. Anonymous6 months ago

    Charles Brow. Tu fobia en contra de los inmigrantes solo demuestra que eres un ignorante no competitivo; en cuestión económica no creo que pagues mas impuestos que los inmigrantes. Lo inmigrante hacen que el dinero fluya, lo gasta a diario no lo amontonan en los bancos como lo hacen los blancos. En cuestión de tu adjetivo (de criminales) tu visión también esta equivocada son mas criminales ustedes los blancos. No llores Brown, si no tienes capacidad para ser competitivo ese es tu problema; los inmigrantes estamos formados para ser altamente competitivos en cualquier actividad productiva, vivan por siempre los inmigrantes.

  4. Anonymous6 months ago

    This assumes that we need the same number of workers doing jobs that require the same level of education as we do now. I very much doubt that this will be true. Just to take one example – that stereotypical immigrant job of driving a taxi won’t exist in ten years, certainly not in twenty years. In general jobs that don’t require a high school diploma or good communications skills are going to be hit harder by improving machine intelligence and robotic than those that require a PhD.

  5. Charles Brown6 months ago

    What about American families having more children instead? We need our immigration laws enforced and all illegal aliens deported. NO AMNESTY. Illegal aliens drain US taxpayers of hundreds of billion of dollars. It is far cheaper to deport these criminals that to allow them to stay. President Trump needs to rescind DACA so that these illegal aliens can be arrested and deported. NO AMNESTY. Lets make sure Americans have good paying jobs instead of bringing in more cheap immigration labor.

    1. Anonymous6 months ago

      This is just false on the face of it. Undocumented immigrants are a net benefits on taxes, not a net drain. And if Americans aren’t willing to work for the low wages that the immigrants will work for, they don’t deserve those jobs. That’s just protectionism, the antithesis of capitalism.